Windows 10 Upgrade Experience

Standard post by Christopher on August 1, 2015
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ell, Windows 10 is here, the “Last ever edition of Windows”.I got my Windows Book an Upgrade App pretty quickly, and went ahead and pencilled myself in, and waited for 29 July.

Today I switched the machine on, left it running and assumed it would download whilst I was out at work. Fairly disappointingly, I arrived home to find nothing had popped onto the monitor to say “I’m ready!”

Why might this be? Any number of reasons according to Microsoft, maybe the servers were busy, maybe I wasn’t one of the chosen, or another thought occurred to me, maybe it was waiting for me to install the last of my Windows 8.1 updates. Yes, that must be it.

And that’s when the trouble started.

One reboot later, the Windows 10 app had disappeared from the system tray. Running the troubleshooter informed me that KB2976978 was missing. Examining the system clearly stated that it wasn’t. Any attempt to download and install the update informed me that it was already installed.

OK, so, what are the options?

The most obvious one was a manual install. Off to the Microsoft website to run the media creation tool. Run the tool, start downloading the update. Happy Days.

Windows then Verifies the download, unpacks it, and tries to check everything is good for the install.

At this point I am confronted with a message stating “This PC cannot run Windows 10” and underneath a message stating “We were unable to update the system reserved partition.”

After some basic digging, it appears that the 100MB system reserved partition created during the previous Windows 8 (later upgraded to 8.1) install has 1MB of free space left. Very unlikely to be able to support an OS upgrade. This in turn, it transpires, having trawled several forums being the result of a SATA to SSD migration performed with the Samsung SSD Migration tools.

Oh dear. As many will know, the System Reserved Partition is not something to mess with unless you really have to. Certainly it should not have a drive letter assigned to it. This allows your machine to potentially write data to it, fill it up completely (not just nearly) and cause al sorts of nastiness.

We need a method of expanding the partition without doing it permanent damage and without the risk involved in moving the boot loader to another disk and making that the System and Active partition. Enter a copy of Acronis Disk Director. I released 400MB of Hard Drive space from the partition housing the C: drive, then got Acronis to allow that space to be allocated to the System Reserved Partition. This raised it to a 500MB drive, which is what the default size is these days.

So, off we go again (unfortunately having to re-download the Windows 10 image). In the interim I uninstalled my copy of BitDefender 2015, intending to re-download the Windows 10 compatible edition afterwards, thus ensuring the security software cannot interfere with the upgrade, and I get my protection back afterwards.

This time, the Media creation tool got past the System Reserved Drive, downloaded its updates and began the install which is in three parts (Copy Files / Unpacking, Installing Features, and Configuring Settings). A total of three reboots occurred during the process.

So, my upgrade path was most decidedly not easy, but I have a machine which has been through the wars a bit, the veteran of a previous OS upgrade and an SSD migration.

The good news is, your efforts are eventually rewarded. I liked Windows 8 / 8.1 – I controversially did not mind the Start Page, but Windows 10 takes what was good with that and makes everything a little less “in your face”.


  • The New Start Menu. A nice combination of the Windows 8 live tiles and the familiar Windows 7 traditional start menu. Microsoft has also retained the right-click on the Windows icon to bring up the Power User commands.


  •  Microsoft Edge. Yes it is lacking in plugins, but switching to the traditional IE is easy for when this is necessary. It looks nice but best of all it is blindingly fast.


  • The built-in Apps. With the exception of the Twitter app (Tweet Deck still rules hands-down), the built-in apps are of real quality. Even the Weather app is packed with information now.


  • Cortana. The Windows phone assistant comes to the desktop. Only minor gripe is that my old Life Cam isn’t 100% compatible with her, but the voice recognition standard, even then, is very, very accurate.


  • Little tweaks. There is now a delay on the snipping tool which can be set in seconds. Very useful for when you need to capture something requiring an extra click, like the start menu.

Minor Gripes:

  • I would like the All Apps shortcut at the bottom of the Start Menu to open the old “All Apps” screen from Windows 8. Its a minor thing, but I found that easy to graphically navigate.
  • The “sign in with your face” thing requires an infrared camera, the lowest priced ones being the equivalent of $100 US. That’s going to be a longer term thing.

There has been much made of the Wi-Fi sharing issue since launch but come on people, if you don’t want to use it, don’t switch the thing on!

My advice is therefore to go for it if you are eligible for the upgrade. Its free, and you will gain much more than you lose. Back up all your files first, and if you have a machine that has been through a few installs, upgrades, hard drive changes and whatnot, either do a clean install, or be prepared for a bit of prep first as per above.

Big thumbs up on this for MS, and it seems I’m not alone, as of Friday, they estimate Windows 10 is already being run on 14 Million Desktops…

Long time no blogging. Time to get active. I have been handed this rather daunting task by the business, and had to come through.

Part 1: The Problem

We are in the midst of adopting a new, cloud-based HR system. Part of its function is to compare projected shift patterns against actuals, and then a comparison of what shift managers budgeted to take place in terms of man-hours and salaries, and what it actually cost them.

In order for this to work, the software that runs our Rand Handpunch clocking hardware needed to be able to report actuals to the cloud application. Said cloud app has a well established SOAP interface, but of course, the clocking system manufacturers could not support it. Cutting a long story short, the app vendor acknowledged this and told us that if we could provide them with a csv file in a specific format, then they could do the rest.

Sounds easy doesn’t it? It should have been, however there were a few hurdles to overcome:

  1. The clocking data comes from two different systems.
  2. System A is a SQL Server Express based system. System B is based on a total of 42 Access 2007 databases, which have user-level protection, applied by the vendor.
  3. The csv data to be transmitted to the cloud vendor has to be submitted in a single file.
  4. The data for the cloud vendor has to have a custom header with the company’s distinct app instance ID, with the data from both clocking systems in the body of the csv file appended beneath.
  5. The csv file must have a unique filename and begin with the prefix “TNA”.
  6. The data in the csv file must carry the employee number for each person clocking. These numbers are taken from multiple different systems and there are duplicates between them.
  7. The data from both clocking systems does not take the possibility of a worker starting one side of midnight and working into the next, only providing these values as times, not date and time. The cloud vendor wants date and time, so there must be a method of detecting these workers and providing the correct values.
  8. Some times from the clocking systems are stored in the format hh:mm, some as h:mm, dependent on whether the recorded time is prior to 10:00 a.m. We need to consistently detect the hours and minutes segments of this data, either side of the semi-colon.
  9. The querying and transmission of the data needs to be performed automatically, on a 10 minute schedule.
  10. Projected rota data for Drivers needs to come back in the other direction into the company’s proprietary .NET /SQL Server based Logistics system (thankfully written by yours truly).

Now I know the strapline of this Blog is “Square Pegs into Round Holes” but this is taking things a bit too far.

To accomplish the above required a combination of the following, all of which will be explained in the following posts:

  • An SSIS Package with Flat File connectors, Access OLE connectors, and SQL Server Connectors.
  • A Template text file for the custom header text.
  • A “staging” Access database for the data coming from the clocking system based on that technology.
  • The Windows Task Scheduler and a batch file.
  • Conditional logic within a Derived Column SSIS Transformation
  • A package variable to provide a unique filename on each pass of the schedule.
  • Use of the RIGHT, SUBSTRING, and FINDSTRING functions in the Derived Column SSIS Transformation.
  • Custom fields in both clocking systems, the Logistics database, to match the employee number in the Cloud App.

This is clearly a problem of mind-mangling complexity. First up is Part 2 – Access Hell.

Free Microsoft E-Books, Get ’em whilst they’re hot!

Standard post by Christopher on November 10, 2013
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One from the team.

Microsoft are giving away free e-Books, on topics ranging from Windows Server 2012 to Analysis Services in SQL Server 2012. I think its fair to say there is something for everyone here, especially the aspiring Systems Admin.

I myself bagged some advice on transitioning my SSIS packages to SQL Server 2012, handy since they have integrated BIDS more fully into Visual Studio.

Get yours today here.

Crystal Reports – Subreports Re-import at Open

Standard post by Christopher on November 6, 2013
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This bit us last week.

We have had some power problems over the last month or so, mostly because we discovered, after the electrician had opened up some of the trunking that our so-called “clean supply” wasn’t exactly as clean as it was supposed to be.

There was a fire alarm cable spliced into the middle of it for a start.

Consequentially, things were tripping and going pop far too often, and UPS power doesn’t cut it in the middle of the night when customer orders need picking and your engineers glide in their dreams. In an effort to reduce the pull on the overworked circuit boards, we parked down a few “non-essential” legacy systems, thinking that they could be brought up as necessary whilst the situation was resolved.

How wrong we were.

We suddenly started getting reports of one particular Crystal Report, our delivery note, running appallingly slow, and not just in one location – everywhere. This puzzled us greatly, since the report had not been edited, and we couldn’t find anything amiss with the Terminal Servers, the SQL platform, or the report itself.

The ERP vendor had us make several different changes to the report, including ensuring that each and every table referenced in the report was actually pointing at views defined with the WITH (NOLOCK) parameter. We were pulling our hair out when we actually ran the dependency checker inside the report. It appears that if you import a subreport into a Crystal Report using a report that already exists, Crystal remembers where it has come from.

This is, in theory, so that you can get the main report to re-import the sub reports when the report opens. This allows you to change the originals, and for the main report to pick these changes up, without the need to delete the sub report out and bring it back in manually. Great in theory, but when your ERP system stores all its Crystal reports as objects within the database, and every site uses the same report, not so great.

Of course, way back when, the reports were originally designed and imported from a file share on one of the servers housing the legacy platform. When the users were calling the delivery note procedure, the report was attempting to locate the UNC path the sub reports were originally imported from. When this network call timed out, the re-import failed, and the report was displayed anyway.

The dependency checker demonstrated this to us, so we could at least bring that resource back online. However, since the report is run at every depot, sometimes across comparatively slow links, we didn’t want these depots making a call to the file share every time the report was run.

Fortunately, there is the checkbox to “Re-import sub reports when opening” if one right clicks on the sub report and chooses “Format SubReport”. Disable this, and Crystal no longer attempts the reimport, and you can park that legacy system down.

Note that if no DNS record for the legacy system had existed at all in the environment, the call would have immediately failed, rather than it attempting to locate the known resource which had a valid DNS name and IP Address.

Entering Values into a Calendar Table via T-SQL

Standard post by Christopher on July 23, 2013
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I use a Calendar table in most applications, primarily for the purpose of matching our financial weeks to “real” weeks.

I always forget to document how to populate the table on the verge of the next financial year so here it is:

The table is defined like this:

CREATE TABLE [dbo].[syscal](
[dateID] [int] IDENTITY(1,1) NOT NULL,
[Date] [datetime] NOT NULL,
[Year] [int] NOT NULL,
[Month] [int] NOT NULL,
[Day] [int] NOT NULL,
[QuarterNumber] [int] NOT NULL,
[WeekNo] [int] NULL,
[fdweek] [int] NULL

And populated automatically between two dates like this:

declare @end_date datetime;

SET @Date = ‘8/8/2013’;
set @end_date = ‘8/1/2014’;
WHILE @Date <= @end_date

INSERT INTO syscal (
@Date as [date],
DATEPART(mm, @Date) as [month],
DATEPART(dy, @Date) as [day],
year(@Date) as [year],
DATEPART(qq, @Date) as [Quarter],
DATEPART(ww, @Date) as [week]

SET @Date = DATEADD(dd, 1, @Date);

One Microsoft. Gimme Fried Chicken

Standard post by Christopher on July 11, 2013
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Microsoft’s painful rebirth into a non-PC centric company continues.

The company is to be restructured to deliver a single, coherent strategy across all its platforms and offerings which is to be referred to as “One Microsoft”. The idea is that instead of working in their narrow business silos such as “Windows”, “Exchange” and “Xbox”, these divisions should seek to coordinate their offerings to ensure that their expertise is exploited across the entire company.

I’d argue that to a certain extent this process is already self evident, which shouldn’t be a surprise because large corporations do not decide to restructure and change their cultures overnight. One of my bugbears prior to the last 18 months or so has been a questioning over the fact that sometimes Microsoft systems appear to have been developed with only a cursory acknowledgement of other areas of the business. “Who signed this off?” was something we frequently found ourselves saying as another offering was released to market with an obvious lack of testing. At least over the last year or so, the company’s portfolio appears to have been more aligned, more uniformly presented against Windows 8 and Server 2012.

The new structure will be divided into the following business areas:

Engineering (supply chain and datacenters), Marketing, Business Development and Evangelism, Advanced Strategy and Research, Finance, HR, Legal, and COO (including field, support, commercial operations and IT).

In addition, there will be four engineering areas: OS, Apps, Cloud, and Devices. Dynamics will be kept separate because it needs “special focus”, according to Steve Ballmer.

There is still an inisistence that “the PC is not dead and it is not going to die” but that 5 years from now, smartphone, tablet, and console users will easily outnumber the traditional PC user, and therefore, there needs to be a more holistic approach to delivering all of Microsoft’s capabilities across the various devices that are capable of running the company’s software.

Software, Devices, and Services is going to be the motto.

There is no doubt that this is proving to be a difficult transition for Redmond. It has been used to delivering products that have been developed by a tightly focused team of individuals, who attempt to make the very best client OS, database engine, mail server, whatever, not people who are delivering a single Microsoft experience in the same way that iOS provides a single, consistent environment for everything.

I think there is no doubt that this is a good direction for Microsoft, provided that it doesn’t fall into the trap of dumbing its offering down to the lowest common denominator. Windows 8 antagonised the Enterprise space because it seemed to give it so little recognition over the consumer it was trying to lure away from iOS. We felt abandoned and unloved, however there are signs with 8.1 that they have realised there was a danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

It can also be seen as a more pragmatic and realistic vision than the “Microsoft is All in the Cloud” that we saw a few years previously. The Cloud is now an enabling force, as opposed to be the all-consuming force it was going to be, focused on service delivery and part of a strategy that ensures the company is able to more flexibly respond to marketplace changes as opposed to one structured round distinct product areas. Before, in order to change direction it had to hack off a limb, now, it simply changes its clothes.

The big question is, can they pull it off? Can they convince these people who have been used to being focused on their own areas for so long to widen their vision? As with any organisation, those who cannot buy into the strategy will find life difficult. If they can manage it, we may see a more agile Microsoft that effectively delivers its single vision.

Manchester Architecture – Skyliner

Standard post by Christopher on June 18, 2013
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A non-technology related post. Saturday’s ITV programme  “Farewell to Granadaland” featured some interesting archive footage and particularly glimpses of what Manchester was like at various stages during the Quay Street site’s life. This not unnaturally got me thinking about some of the buildings and architectural features around the city that are no longer around, some for the better, some would say for the worse, but nostalgia is not always a very good judge of taste.

Things that immediately come into my mind from riding around in my father’s car with him on a Saturday morning 30 years ago are:

The Hulme Crescents – a spectacularly good example of how not to build social housing, (the Police eventually refused to police it at all, managing to justify it on account of the covered walkways not being real “streets”. They were the back drop for gritty images of various Manchester bands including a strikingly bleak photo of Joy Division on the old Hulme bridge in the snow, looking out to the crescents. During their abandonment and subsequent demolition they were the venue for several underground clubs during the acid house culture of the late 80s.

Regent Road in Salford just after the M602 had been built to link the M63 (later to become the M60) to the City Centre. When you came off the motorway, the right hand side of the road was being covered in new social housing for Ordsall, but the streets on the left were still derelict with World War II bomb damage.

Grey Mare lane as it was before Eastlands and the City of Manchester Stadium were developed, before the land was cleared for the failed Manchester Olympic bid. My grandparents lived in the East of the City and as there was no direct route from where we lived, you had to go into the City Centre and out the other side – the motorway stopped at Stockport. Grey Mare lane market was huge (it’s now a postage stamp sized dot on the corner of a main road), and the road itself snaked through the houses like a miniature racetrack.

The old Odeon cinema on Oxford Road. The building is still there (for how much longer who knows?) , but the wonderful interior is lost forever. My love of cinema was inspired by Screen 1 in the Manchester Odeon. It was vast (even though my parents tell me it was even larger before I knew it), and was IMAX before IMAX was invented, and the very top floor was a treasure trove of art deco features, all smashed when the cinema closed and moved to the Printworks.

The old Arndale Centre Extension that housed the Bus Station, the dark den famously described as having a “landscape of fear” and actually housing 60 flats on its roof, one of which was occupied by Hacienda DJ Dave Haslam. Across the road was the Royal Insurance building and the old Marks and Spencers (both declared unsafe after the 1996 IRA Bombing and demolished), and behind that the grand folly of Shambles Square, all white tile and not very successful shops, with the two historic pubs rather incongruously wedged into the concrete.

Some of these are remembered in Hayley Flynn’s blog The Skyliner. I love her writing and the way in which she tells the stories of not only the buildings themselves but the people who lived and worked in them. I thought of adding this stuff as a page to Medlock Madness but she’s doing it wonderfully well so I thought I would point you all to her site. Go read!

Click Once Manifest Signing in VS 2012

Standard post by Christopher on June 18, 2013
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Just a quick one. I hadn’t had to do a new build on my Logistics App for around 6 weeks. When I came to resolve a small bug this morning and re-publish the Click Once Application I was confronted with this error:

An error occurred while signing: Failed to sign bin\Debug\app.publish\setup.exe. SignTool Error: No certificates were found that met all the given criteria.

Which confused me for a moment, until I remembered that I had signed the Manifests. If you look in the Signing Tab of the Project Properties page, then you will see the “Sign the Click Once Manifests” check box. Since this is an application that is only available internally I had used a test certificate right at the start of its development. This had subsequently expired.

I am now using my Code Signing Certificate I use for all of my in-house developed stuff but it goes to show that sometimes error messages are pertinent (it would have been nice if it had told me it had actually expired rather than it simply “not meeting the given criteria” though).

Hopefully this helps anyone who is suddenly surprised by this message after happily jogging along with an app to find it won’t publish any more.

First Look at Windows 8.1 Part II

Standard post by Christopher on June 13, 2013
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So, after what seemed a fairly lightweight announcement on the Windows Blog about changes coming into Windows 8.1 which appeared to be rather consumer focused and focused on the HCI interactions, the Technet people have released this article which exposes some of the features IT Professionals will want to know about:

Windows 8.1 – What’s New, IT Pro Features, Devices, UI | TechNet.

The one that immediately jumps off the page for me is this one:

With Workplace Join, IT administrators now have the ability to offer finer-grained control to corporate resources.  If a user registers their device, IT can grant some access while still enforcing some governance parameters on the device.

This suggests a half-way house, so that even inside the firewall, if someone is on the network, we can control how that device interacts with the corporate LAN. I like that. The amount of times we get asked whether customers can access the LAN whilst on site is legion and this sort of thing injects that confidence for regular visitors and also those trusted employees who might own a tablet which we have previously refused to allow on the LAN.

This is augmented by Work Folders:

With Work Folders, Users can keep local copies of their work files on their devices, with automatic synchronization to your data center, and for access from other devices. 

That’s handy – my tower at home is not domain joined, but I use it to work from at least one day a week. It would be very handy to have my personal share on that without having to have it joined to the domain.

For anyone wondering what was happening to some of the functionality that was contained within the shortly to be defunct Threat Management Gateway (previously ISA Server), now we know:

The Web Application Proxy is a new role service in the Windows Server Remote Access role. It provides the ability to publish access to corporate resources, and enforce multi-factor authentication as well as apply conditional access policies to verify both the user’s identity and the device they are using resources, and enforce multi-factor authentication as well as verify the device being used before access is granted.

Tap-to-pair printing is a nice little conceit which would provide a little bit of the wow factor to users:

Tap your Windows 8.1 device against an enterprise NFC-enabled printer and you’re all set to print. No more hunting on your network for the correct printer and no need to buy a special printer to take advantage of this functionality. Simply attach an NFC tag to your existing printers to enable this functionality.

And Microsoft are finally catching up with its competitors and allowing Broadband Tethering:

Turn your Windows 8.1 mobile broadband-enabled PC or tablet into a personal Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing other devices to connect and access the internet.

This Auto-Triggering of the VPN is nice and smart and takes away the confusion a lot of users experience when working outside of the LAN perimeter:

When you select an app or resource that needs access through the inbox VPN – like a company’s intranet site – Windows 8.1 will automatically prompt you to sign in with one click. This feature will be available with Microsoft and third-party inbox VPN clients.

New device encryption and lockdown options and yes, there is Boot to Desktop:

We have made configuration options available which will allow you to boot directly to the desktop in Windows 8.1.

This gives me many more incentives to upgrade than the GUI improvements announced previously, and a lot of this stuff is actually useful as opposed to something that looks pretty and seemed to be a good idea at the time. It gives the community more confidence that they are actually listening. Good job Microsoft, looking forward to seeing all this.

Windows 8.1 First Look

Standard post by Christopher on May 31, 2013
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So, “Windows Blue” is morphing into, what? Not Windows 9, and not the preferred Windows 8 SP1 for us pedantic geeks but resurrecting an old tradition and becoming Windows 8.1 as revealed in the Windows Blog post Continuing the Windows 8 vision with Windows 8.1. Sigh, Windows 3.1 / Windows for Workgroups. Happy (simpler) times…

Of course the greatest hullabaloo to come out of this is the suggestion that the Start Button is back! Except it isn’t, what is happening is that the hot corner that currently shows the Windows Start Screen in miniature is being replaced with a Windows Logo with the word “Start” on it. This is unlikely to appease the more vitriolic campaigners for the return of a fully-fledged, fully functional Start Menu experience as has been featured since Windows 95. Click on the hotspot and you go back to the Start screen. These same people are unlikely to think that the ability for the Start Menu to occupy one monitor permanently whilst you do desktop work on the other improves the situation.

I’m in two minds about this, I applaud Microsoft for sticking to their guns in one respect – they have bet the farm on this move into touch and they don’t want to let go now. On the other hand I wonder whether they aren’t missing a trick in bowing to this pressure, at least in this interim release. Long term readers of this blog will know that I user both 7 and 8 currently on different machines and I find elements of 8 very easy in some respects, massively annoying in others. To be honest, the lack of a “classic” start menu isn’t one of them, the frustrating inability to easily customise the All Apps screen (which I use a lot), is, or at least without significant changes to the folder structure in the file system.

Swipe up to access All Apps is great, but I have yet to find an attractively priced touchscreen monitor worth its salt.

Some of the other stuff in the blog post makes me wonder who actually requested this stuff. Lock screens that display moving backgrounds? Welcome back Vista Ultimate Extras! The “Press and hold effect” for tiles seems to have come from iPhone users. I don’t think I have ever accidentally moved a tile. What is nice though is the ability to vary the tile size.

Best thing to come with this refresh? Has to be the greater variety of options that are going to come along with snap – multiple copies of the same app snapped together, up to three apps snapped at once on the same screen and variable size of the snapped app windows.

At the end of the day, this is a tweak, it does nothing to address the critics, but is likely to please the majority of those who have taken the plunge and adopted the OS already. Of course, this is only a selection of features MS have chosen to make public at this point, and more details are likely to be released at Build at the end of June.